When one sees the word “aperitivo” or “aperitif,” thoughts naturally turn to the famous Italian liqueurs and amari that classically bear those words. You’re likely picturing a bottle of Campari already, or the omnipresent, crimson outline of the Aperol spritz. But aperitivos as a class of liqueur, defined primarily by their central bitterness, have long been a fixture of other world drinking cultures as well, and their popularity has seen them spreading far and wide in recent years. Even down under, in fact, one will find local aperitivo, and that’s the interesting selection I’m able to taste today—Bizzarro Aperitivo, a product of the Delinquente Wine Co. of Adelaide, South Australia. Two canned cocktails made with Bizzarro Aperitivo have recently landed on U.S. shelves, so I was curious to taste both the liqueur itself and how that new aperitivo would play in some canned cocktails from half a world away.
Bizzarro styles itself as “bitter aperitivo,” and the ABV of 17.5% makes one wonder if it’s meant to split the difference between Aperol (11% ABV) and Campari (24% ABV in the U.S.) In reality, however, Bizzarro doesn’t really invite that much direct comparison to the famous Italian bitters—for one thing, it defines itself quite different for the fact that it’s based entirely around the wine grape. Whereas Campari and Aperol are essentially herbal and fruit infusions that are married to neutral spirits, Bizzarro’s infusion is into neutral grape spirit, effectively unaged brandy. But more importantly, that spirit is then used to fortify dry white wine, in the form of “organic and biodynamic Vermentino.” The liqueur also includes “organically grown oranges and lemons from Australia’s Riverland, alongside an array of traditional herbs and exotic botanicals.” The company doesn’t go into a lot of details, though traditional aperitivo ingredients such as gentian root and rhubarb are used. As they put it: “The result: an aperitivo that perfectly balances sweet and bitter, making it incredible versatile. Pour it into your pet nat spritz, mix it into your favorite cocktails or serve up over ice with a splash of soda.”
The canned cocktails, meanwhile, are a spritz (of course) made with more Aussie wine, and a Bizzarro and tonic creation dubbed Mischief Brew, both of which sell in 4-packs of squat, 250 ml cans. The company markets both cocktails as “organic, biodynamic, sustainably packaged, preservative free, and made in small batches.”
So with all that said, let’s taste all three and see how Aussie aperitivo distinguishes itself.
The aperitivo itself is the heart of both canned cocktails, so I obviously wanted an opportunity to taste it first, in order to be able to understand and pick up its flavor better in the cocktails. Like pretty much any aperitivo, most of the flavor here is coming from a secret blend of bitter herbs and fruit, etc., although the wine base of Bizzarro offers an interesting alternative in a segment where the alcohol is usually very neutral.
On the nose, I’m certainly getting the citrus in a melded, hard-to-place way, along with notes of vanilla and florals. Something about it puts me in the mind of pink lemonade. On the palate, meanwhile, there’s light honey and herbaceous flavors, green notes, orchard fruit and gentle bitterness. The florals have a rose water-like sweetness, but residual sweetness is only moderate overall, and the texture is wine-like and not syrupy. The herbaceousness is also well considered and fairly present, but not overpowering.
The big takeaway here is honestly that of restraint—compared to the likes of Campari and even Aperol, Bizzarro is just much more delicately flavored and less punchy. It’s not as citrus dominated, not as syrupy, not as sweet, and not as bitter. It’s actually pretty easy (and rather pleasant) to drink neat, and I imagine I could develop a taste for this poured over ice. That’s certainly not something I would say about Campari or Aperol, but I have a feeling that the wine base of Bizzarro makes it lend itself to neat consumption quite a bit more.
MSRP: $25 (4-pack)
The canned Bizzarro Spritz weighs in at 12.75% ABV, and is described by the company as “Bizzarro Bitter Aperitivo, natural white wine and bubbles.” It’s quite expressive on the nose, with orange citrus, florals and sweetness that quite strongly evoked orange blossom honey to me the first time I sampled this—to an almost disconcerting degree, in fact. Returning to it again, I’m able to wrap my head around it more, as more of the herbal and bitter tones are drawn closer to the forefront.
Still, at the end of the day this Spritz features a lot of honey, citrus and orchard fruit notes, and I find myself wanting more carbonation or something to break up the sweetness. Likewise, the additional spice notes found in the tonic aren’t really here, and I find myself missing them. All in all, I think more lively carbonation and maybe a little dilution would help with this one.
MSRP: $20 (4-pack)
My surprise favorite of the Bizzarro canned cocktails ended up being this “Mischief Brew,” which combines the aperitivo with Mischief Brew Sodas’ Bengal Tonic. The ABV is a very approachable 5%, which is made all the more lightweight by the fact that the cans are relatively small. That makes this one a true low-ABV sipper, but one packed with flavor.
The nose on Bizzarro Mischief Brew is full of both orange citrus and warm spices, evoking memories of Constant Comment tea with a few dashes of Angostura bitters. On the palate, it briefly evokes orange soda, but ultimately isn’t nearly so sweet, with significant spice notes of cinnamon and clove—which one eventually places as allspice. It is apparently made with the “Guatemalan pimento,” better known in the U.S. as the dried berry that gives us allspice, so that checks out. That exotic spiciness marries nicely with a gentle, bitter edge to make a beverage that is enticingly complex but also refreshing, with just enough sweetness. A lovely surprise, and one that speaks well of both the gentle, unique aperitivo in it and the tonic they’ve sourced.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.